Joseph Pergolizzi is Adjunct Assistant Professor at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland, and Senior Partner and Director of Research at Naples Anesthesia and Pain Associates in Naples, Florida.
What inspired you to become a healthcare provider?
I sought a career that would allow me to make a positive difference in the lives of as many people as possible. Despite the challenges facing physicians, in my opinion it is still—by far—the greatest career a man or woman could have. We are starting to make major breakthroughs in our understanding and treatment of pain, and I am very glad to be in medicine at this time in history. I cannot image a greater benefit to humanity than being able to control pain.
Why did you focus on pain management?
Pain is one of the last frontiers in modern medicine. Even before I was a physician, I noticed that our society does not really take pain very seriously as a medical condition. Many people think that pain is just a natural part of life. I never saw pain as acceptable. I view pain as a physiological and psychological response to stimuli, and it is something that we can manage the better we can understand it.
Today, in my practice, I sometimes meet people who have been suffering moderate to severe life-altering pain syndromes without a diagnosis and without adequate pain treatment. Some of them almost cry when they find a physician who believes them and their story about pain.
Who were your mentors?
I have been blessed by having people care about my well-being my entire life and I have tried to be just as magnanimous with my pedagogical endeavors.
My list of mentors begins with my Dad, then my father-in law. Others include: Ed Benz, Myron Weisfeldt, Cathy De Angelis, and Marty Auster from Hopkins; Young Kim from Georgetown and NIH; Phil Balistreri from Georgetown; Robert Raffa from Temple University; May Chin from George Washington; Armando Sardi from St. Agnes; Michael Bloomberg, Pedro Granadillo and Edmundo Muniz in business; Eugene Hollerand from St. Johns in Physical Chemistry.
I also consider myself to be mentored by my own religious faith in Christ. My faith is a key component in my life.
If you weren’t a healthcare provider, what would you be?
I would return to full-time academia to be a professor of medicine or pharmacy at a leading medical school. I enjoy teaching very much. I cannot imagine stepping away from healthcare! Pain is not taught as well as it could be in our medical schools. Not all physicians graduating medical school today leave with the training or confidence to deal with moderate to severe pain.
What is your most marked characteristic?
High energy and the desire to engage people in advancing healthcare. I have great enthusiasm for the many medical breakthroughs we are seeing today. We are seeing a shift toward greater patient empowerment and changes in how healthcare resources are distributed. We know so much about genetics that personalized medicine seems around the corner. These are the things that make me glad to get up and go to work on Monday!
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
My achievements are my foundations: my family, my clinical research organization (NEMA), my publications, my role at PAINWeek, and my Johns Hopkins affiliation. These are all things that reach into the future.
I think my goal in life has always been to have a legacy, to have a portion of my personality, my vision, and my work stretch forward to benefit others. I would like to think that generations from now, some of what I have done will matter. That's why medicine is such a vital part of my life and why I care so deeply about solving the ancient problem of unrelieved pain.
What is your favorite language?
English with a few Italian words thrown in. Is Brooklynese a language?
If you had to choose one book, one film, and one piece of music to take into space for an undetermined amount of time, what would they be?
I would take Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time; Forest Gump and The Godfather Trilogy; and The Beatles White Album. These are things you can revisit over and over. If I could add a TV series, I would take The Wire.
(I'm probably overpacking!)
I think if I was in outer space for a prolonged period of time, the journey would be pretty entertaining in and of itself. I can tell you what I would not want to take: 2001: A Space Odyssey, any Stephen King novel, and any hip-hop music. Those things would disturb my space travel!
What would you like your legacy to be?
Like any father, I think my greatest legacy is my family. My children are my most important achievement, my greatest legacy, and my one true source of pride. I have three wonderful children who I know will make a positive and powerful impact on their generation.
Professionally, I would like my legacy to be a greater understanding of chronic pain and how to treat it. Chronic pain is truly a silent epidemic. I want to be the voice of the chronic pain patient and the physician who is working with others to solve this terrible problem.
What is your motto?
Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts. (Winston Churchill)
Posted on January 10, 2017